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10 Symptoms of a Selfish Church Member

Discover the attitudes church members need to make the most difference.

Discover the attitudes of church members that make all the difference in this excerpt from I Am a Church Member by Thom Rainer. 

The inside of an old church with pews

Often I'm tempted to use illustrations of my children in various settings since I have such a love for my three sons. Even now that they are adults with their own children, I sometimes find myself talking about them when they were little boys.

"I Want It My Way, Right Now, Without Compromise"

So I thought I might begin this chapter by giving an illustration of my boys fussing and fighting because they wanted something their way. But then I begin to think how many times I fought with my own older brother because I wanted it my way, right now, without compromise.

I could be a selfish brat.

It's good we grow out of that phase after we become adults. Right? It's even better that we never revert to that phase after we become Christians. Right? Wrong!

When Adults Throw Temper Tantrums in Church

Christians can sometimes act just like those demanding children who want things their way. Temper tantrums in churches may not include church members lying on the floor kicking and screaming, but some come close.

But the strange thing about church membership is that you actually give up your preferences when you join. Don't get me wrong; there may be much about your church that you like a lot.

But you are there to meet the needs of others. You are there to serve others. You are there to give. You are there to sacrifice. Get the picture?

An Example of a "Me First" Moment in the Bible

Jesus would often say things that confounded His listeners.

You see, even His disciples had a tendency to fight with one another. On one occasion the Twelve were arguing about who was the greatest. Can you imagine that? The closest followers of Jesus were having a "me first" fight. The Bible says that Jesus stopped and sat down and called these grown men together. "Sitting down, He called the Twelve and said to them, 'If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all'" (Mark 9:35).


I would have loved to have been a fly on a cloak and seen their expressions. Yep, He got you this time, you self-serving disciples. And then it hits me. That text is for me as well. As a church member, my motivation should not be to get my preferences to the top of the list. I am supposed to be last, not first. I am supposed to be a servant instead of seeking to be served.

A Survey That Said a Lot

My research team recently conducted a survey of churches that were inwardly focused. For the most part, they were not serving past their own walls and their own members. In other words, these churches were largely self-serving.

In our survey we found 10 dominant behavior patterns of members in these churches. See if you recognize any:

1. Worship Wars

One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.

2. Prolonged Minutia Meetings

The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.

3. Facility Focus

The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture and other visible parts of the church's buildings and grounds.

4. Program Driven

Every church has programs even if they don't admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry.

5. Inwardly Focused Budget

A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.

6. Inordinate Demands for Pastoral Care

All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have membership status.

7. Attitudes of Entitlement

This issue could be a catch-all for many of the points named here. The overarching attitude is one of demanding and having a sense of deserving special treatment.

8. Greater Concern About Change than the Gospel

Almost any noticeable changes in the church evoke the ire of many; but those same passions are not evident about participating in the work of the gospel to change lives.

9. Anger and Hostility

Members are consistently angry. They regularly express hostility toward the church staff and other members.

10. Evangelistic Apathy

Very few members share their faith on a regular basis. More are concerned about their own needs rather than the greatest eternal needs of the world and community in which they live.

Church Membership from a Biblical Perspective

In almost every behavior above, church members were looking out for their own needs and preferences. I want the music my way. I want the building my way. I am upset because the pastor didn't visit me. I don't want to change anything in my church.

You get the picture. I. Me. Myself.

Church membership from a biblical perspective, however, is about servanthood. It's about giving. It's about putting others first.

Excerpted from I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer. © 2013 B&H Books. Used by Permission.

Learn More About I Am a Church Member

I Am a Church Member (based on an idea originally taken from author Thom S. Rainer's daily blog) discusses the attitudes and responsibilities of church members. Six chapters include study questions to guide the discussion.

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Also a respected pastor and researcher, Thom has written more than 20 books, including the number-one bestseller I Am A Church Member